Originally Published: May 21, 2013 10 p.m.
After Pickleball players Tom Riley and Damon Olsen scrambled to return a serve by Nancy Miser during a recent tournament at the gym at Prescott's Willow Hills Baptist Church, Riley said "I'm hooked. I love this game."
"I love the speed, it seems like it would be a slow game but it's not," he said. "It's reflex. You don't have time to think. You just trust your body, and hope you get out of the way of the slams."
Pickleball was invented in 1965 by a doctor and his friends looking for a game their whole families could enjoy together, and was named after the family dog Pickles who liked to chase the stray balls, said Bob Atherton, area ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association and team leader of the Willow Hills Pickleball Club in Prescott.
"It's so fun. You just laugh the whole time. It just brings so much happiness, exercise, laughing and socializing with your neighbors,' " said Nancy Miser, a Pickleball player.
The game is played on a court about a third of the size of a tennis court, with paddles and a smaller version of a wiffle ball
"Although the game seems similar to tennis, there are key differences that make it more accessible to a wide range of players, particularly children and seniors," Atherton said.
The ball moves at a third of the speed of a tennis ball, serves are required to be delivered below the waist, and the rules are simple.
And the sport is growing in popularity. There are several local Pickleball clubs, and Prescott will host a Pickleball tournament in August, said Roger Wolfe, who teaches the sport at The Club at Prescott Lakes.
"It's very easy to play and gives you a lot of exercise," said Larry Davis, a Pickleball player.
Peg Travers who has been playing for the past nine months, said she got started after a neighbor asked her to come play with them. It took a few months for her to get the hang of it, and now she can't play enough.
"Across the street, we could hear the ping, ping, ping and a lot of laughter," Travers said. "It's so much fun. It's not serious like tennis. I'm addicted."
Atherton recently taught 9- and 10-year-old students at Trinity Christian School in Prescott how to play the game during their physical education class over a month's time.
"I found I love Pickleball, thanks to you," wrote Remi in a thank you note, while Andrew added "Thank you for teaching me a new sport."
A grant from USAPA along with financial support from the Willow Hills Pickleball Club helped buy the textbooks, paddles and balls for the students.
"There is less wear and tear on the knees and ankles than tennis or racquetball, but it still produces an aerobic experience that can be fast," Atherton said.
Pickleball has increased in popularity with about 200,000 players worldwide and people playing in clubs locally at the Prescott YMCA, Willow Hills, The Club at Prescott Lakes, Orchard Ranch and Pine Lakes.
"You can always tell a Pickleball game is going on by the sound of the ball hitting the paddle and all of the laughter," Atherton said.